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Chapter 1: The Taste of Victory

March 2, 2023
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Rom just knew he was meant to be one of the greats of the game… unfortunately, his luck never quite agreed.

Rom was hungry. His father made him morelkin hash that morning, but he passed it up. “I’ll win my lunch today,” Rom had said in a deeper-than-usual voice that raised his father’s eyebrows. Rom had let the old man think he was too confident to eat, but in reality he was just too excited because Gontro the Great was battling today.

Now, the grumbling emptiness deep in Rom’s middle reminded him of what he hoped his father would never discover: He had not won his lunch today.

He’d have to brag to his father again about the winnings he could’ve had. Seri didn’t approve of the boy playing Chance, despite the fact that his mother– Rom’s own nan– was once the Grand Champion of the SCL.

Seri didn’t need magic or fantastic creatures. He was happy with his simple living crafting imp’s hooves and wanted his son to feel the same fulfillment from a boring, ordinary life.

Long ago, Rom’s nan Harriet used her connections at the Coliseum to set up Seri as the local contract hoofer to keep up with the constant demand of souvenirs from battles. He had labored for decades to create a nice, stable regional trade. His hooves were ‘the finest feet in Tolkheim,’ as he was fond of saying… although none would be surprised to learn that he himself originated the claim.

Not everybody wanted to build a life as a lowly hoofchuck though…

Rom was roused from his daydreaming by a good sized splash of ale dumping into his lap. A bulbous, clumsy man plopped down next to him, gripping a turkey leg in one hand and the offending flagon in the other. “Hey bud, ready for the match?”

Trying to ignore the bits of meat flickering from the corners of the fellow’s chewing mouth like tiny flags, Rom politely replied. “I can’t wait to see Gontro the Great. I’m his biggest fan.”

The man was obviously a tourist from one of the outer provinces. He was excessively sweaty for a cool day, and had the smell of a porc farm on him. He wore a tunic embroidered with GO GONTRO. From his belt hung a familiar commemorative imp’s hoof. As he watched the sweat beading up in each crease of the ale-spiller’s face, Rom’s mind began to wander…

The Coliseum in Shallowharbor certainly wasn’t the biggest in Tolkheim, but you could travel for days in any direction and not find bigger battles. The seats in the great amphitheater could accommodate 10 fold the entire population of Shallowharbor– coincidentally the largest (and only) city Rom had ever seen.

As Rom walked by the harbor each day, he tried to decide whether or not you could fit all the biggest capital ships and trading vessels docked nearby into the floor of the Coliseum– were it to flood of course. He never could decide one way or the other, but it was close.

The Shallowharbor Coliseum was a marvel to behold, and it drew a fair share of tourists from all over. With the reigning champion being entitled to a spot on the pro tour, title matches were a big deal all over southern Tolkheim.

There were two constants in Shallowharbor… the sight of the Coliseum and the smell of fish.

Today’s match had been a long time coming. Gontro had apparently rescheduled several times over the past year. There were all sorts of rumors about why, but Rom was sure the orc had good reasons.

Rom’s thoughts were suddenly interrupted by a large greasy finger in his face, accompanied by some more spilled ale. “Hey! I saw you earlier at the rotisserie… and the deli. Playing Chance to win your lunch, eh boy? Sorry you didn’t have any luck. Keep practicing, you’ll get there.”

“For your information I’m descended from a line of great battlers,” Rom said proudly as if reciting a sacred oath. Then after a pause, “Besides, I didn’t use any of my best Creatures in those matches… wouldn’t have been fair.”

“Sure kid, I gotcha,” the man said with a sad smile just before ripping another hunk of meat from the bone. “It’s ok bud. Just keep at it.”

Rom’s blood boiled at the remark. Such grubdump from his father was one thing, but this stranger? This tourist has the audacity to tell him to keep at it? Just as Rom was about to indignantly respond, the glow pods throughout the Coliseum suddenly dimmed and torches sprung to life. A thunderhead began to form over the battlefield without wind or rain.

Like many Venues throughout Tolkheim, the Shallowharbor Coliseum was a regional hub of both sport and culture.

Chomp “Ooo! It’s starting!” Another splash of ale.

The thundercloud now obscured the entire sky over the arena floor. Lightning streaked from it to each glow pod around the exterior, causing them to flash with a pulsing blue flourish. A loud voice echoed through the Coliseum.

“Ladies and gentlemen! Welcome to the Shallowharbor Coliseum, where we bring you the greatest battles with the highest stakes!”

Two figures walked out onto the arena floor from opposite sides. From the distance, they looked the size of ants to Rom, but he could easily pick out Gontro by the orc’s green skin and trademark studded leather.

“That one’s Gontro right there. You can tell because he’s an orc,” Turkey leg said, now having totally forgotten about the delicious looking piece of meat in his hands. “They say Cain has been training for years to challenge Gontro’s right to the regional seat in the SCL.”

“He won’t beat Gontro,” muttered Rom. “He’s the best there ever was.”

“In the challenger’s corner — wagering his manor at Barrowhaven versus the championship belt, we have the homegrown, local jewel of our city. The Commander of the Cards, the Summoner Supreme, The Shallowharbor Shakedown himself… Cain MacGrigit!”

Cain walked to the center of the dusty ring, throwing off his robe dramatically to reveal a tunic emitting a beautiful green glow. It created a cone of emerald light within the center of the arena, nearly piercing through the dark thundercloud covering the sky. The crowd clapped politely.

“And defending the title of Shallowharbor Champion and seat in the Southern Chance League– it’s Tane’s Bane, the Mean Green Spellslinging Machine, the Hooligan of Horogorgia, the Deckmaster in the Flesh… GONTRO… THE… GRRRRRRR-EAT!”

Gontro outstretched his hands at the center of the arena, throwing a pair of tokens high into the air. They exploded into bursts of purple light, swirling all around the Coliseum. Suddenly the sound of drums and horns playing a fast jig were all around, coming from every corner of the giant building.

The crowd went wild, dancing and cheering. Rom raised his hands and screamed Gontro’s name. As he rose from his seat though, his belly chose to remind him how hungry he was with another vicious rumble.

“You want to know about how to play Chance? This is the guy you watch, buddy.” The man next to him again spoke from a full mouth. Rom could feel the light shower of pungent ale on his face.

“I know how to play,” Rom said through tight lips without looking away from Gontro. Cain was stretching and practicing quick drawing cards from his hand at the encouragement of his nearby trainer. The champion was sitting sloppily against a wall across the arena drinking from a flask. He had fired up his briar and was blowing smoke rings as he laughed and joked with several young women in the stands.

Wherever Rom went throughout town, the Coliseum was always there. He thought of little else other than great victories and the life of a champion.

The crowd was calming back down and most had taken their seats. There would still be a few minutes until the battle began. Rom could see people hurrying up the aisles for last minute ale… and food. So hungry.

“Everybody here is about to get a serious lesson bud.” The man gestured in a sweeping motion towards entire crowd. “Watch Gontro closely, you can pick up some great tips from him.”

As he spewed turkey bits during this last statement, he gestured towards Rom. The ale must have been quite strong, because he misjudged the boy’s positioning a bit. Rom got a firm smack in the face from the greasy leg. Thwoomp

Rom had been annoyed at this bufoon, but now he was mortified and furious. Who was this stupid tourist who was so rude and thought he knew more about Chance than Rom, the heir of Harriet Destudo?!

He had enough. The anger welled up inside him and started to turn to tears as he shrunk smaller in his seat. Luckily his stomach growled again, keeping the tears at bay and reminding Rom again of his hunger.

“Hey bud, I’m sorry. Got a little excited I guess.”

Just then Rom grabbed the turkey leg out of the man’s outstretched hand. “You don’t know anything!” he shouted, before bounding into the aisles and up the ramp.

“Hey, someone stop him! That kid stole my leg!” he heard the man scream behind him, but he was already out into the breezeway. He’d have to find somewhere else to watch the match, but his stomach had its prize.

From back in the arena, he could hear the booming voice of the announcer.


He ran through the wide, stone corridor with tears in his eyes but a much happier stomach. If he hurried, he could make it to the tavern by the gift shoppe and watch it on one of the looking glasses there.

To Be Continued…

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